SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA (BNO NEWS) -- Tens of thousands of Australians have received text messages purporting to be from a hired hitman who threatens to kill them unless they pay $5,000, officials said on Monday. Police forces across the country have been flooded with calls from worried people.
The so-called hitman scam was sent from a 0000 number and received by an unknown number of people across Australia, although officials believe the number is in the tens of thousands. It is unclear if the scammers targeted mobile numbers at random or if they were obtained from a list.
The hitman scam is not new and has surfaced in the past in various forms, but it is the first time the scam has affected such a large number of people at the same time. The text messages received on Monday read: "Sum1 paid me to kill you. get spared, 48hrs to pay $5000. If you inform the police or anybody, death is promised. E-mail me now: firstname.lastname@example.org"
Police forces across Australia reported receiving a major increase in calls for assistance to 000, the national emergency number, as well as police assistance lines and local police stations. It was not immediately known if anyone had fallen for the scam and transferred money to the criminals, but police said it was likely given the large number of people who were targeted.
"Across Australia at this point in time, we've been flooded and inundated by disturbing text messages claiming that you are about to be killed if you don't part with the sum of $5,000 and transfer this money into the hands of criminals," Detective Superintendent Brian Hay of the Queensland Police Service said. "Please understand that this is a scam, a very ugly attempt by fraudsters overseas to get your money. There is no immediate danger or threat to you or your family, and the tens of thousands of Australians that have been targeted en masse."
Detective Superintendent Jim Jeffery of South Australia Police said people who have received the text message should not call police as an investigation is already underway. "Do not pay any money. There is no need to be alarmed at all in relation to this scam. It is entirely a hoax," he said.
Such scams usually target young and elderly people, and Jefferey said it is likely at least some people will have fallen victim to Monday's text message. "Given the extent the messages have gone out this morning, I'd be very surprised if some Australians haven't fallen victim to the scam," he said.
Australian police have launched a full investigation into Monday's scam and are cooperating with international law enforcement agencies, but Jeffery said it is unlikely those responsible will be caught unless the e-mail address reveals some usable information about the scammers. "It's unlikely that we'll be able to identify and prosecute those responsible," he said.
In July 2008, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also warned about the hitman scam after a number of people received a similar threat. The scam is also known to be sent by e-mail, and the requested amount can vary from between $1,000 to as much as $50,000.
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